It is official: Major League Baseball is in its first work stoppage since the 1994-95 players' strike. At 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday night, the 2017-21 collective bargaining agreement expired, meaning MLB and the MLB Players' Association do not have a contract in place to conduct business. An owner-imposed lockout began minutes after the CBA's expiration, and now we all await a resolution.
What does a lockout mean for the rest of the offseason? Well, no one really knows right now. The MLB calendar is one big TBD at the moment. We're going to learn these things as we go the next few weeks. and what the lockout means (or could mean) for them.
Dec 6-9: Winter Meetings in Orlando
The major-league portion of the Winter Meetings have been canceled. That said, the Winter Meetings are a minor-league event, the major league teams just tag along, and the minor-league portion will go on as scheduled. That means job fairs, trade shows, promotional showcases, things like that. Executives from the 30 major-league teams will not be there wheeling and dealing like they usually do during the Winter Meetings, however.
Dec. 9: Rule 5 Draft
There is precedent for the Rule 5 Draft, a mechanism designed to give minor leaguers more major-league opportunities, to be held during a work stoppage. The 1994 Rule 5 Draft was conducted in the middle of the strike (infielder Tómas Perez and righty Tanyon Sturtze were the most recognizable names taken) with scouting directors and other player development personnel announcing picks, not general managers.
It's unclear what will happen with this year's Rule 5 Draft. Players taken in the Rule 5 Draft go on their new team's 40-man roster and become MLBPA members, making it likely MLB will postpone or even cancel the Rule 5 Draft. There is a minor-league phase to the Rule 5 Draft (minor leaguers are taken and put on their new team's minor league reserve list as a non-40-man roster player) and that could be held as scheduled since it doesn't involve union members. Right now, the Rule 5 Draft is a big mystery.
Jan. 14: Arbitration salary filing deadline
On this date teams and their arbitration-eligible players file salary figures for the coming season. The player files what he believes he should be paid, the team files what they believe he should be paid, and if they go to an arbitration hearing, each side will state their case and the panel will pick either the salary the player filed or the salary the team filed. Nothing in-between. The vast majority of arbitration-eligible players sign contracts before the filing deadline. Only a few actually file, and even fewer go to a hearing.
This deadline technically goes not involve a major-league transaction -- the two sides are submitting salary figures to the arbitration panel, not talking to each other -- and thus could be held as scheduled even during the lockout. That said, this is a deadline that seems ripe for postponement. Why conduct official business during a lockout? This deadline is over a month away, so this isn't an urgent matter. If the lockout is ongoing come January though, expect to hear this deadline has been pushed back indefinitely.
Jan. 15: International signing period opens
MLB teams have two avenues to acquire amateur talent: the draft (covers the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico), and international free agency (covers the rest of the world). The international signing period typically runs from July 2 to June 25 each year, but the 2020-21 and 2021-22 signing periods were pushed back because of the pandemic. What is technically the 2021-22 international signing period will open on Jan. 15.
International amateurs sign minor-league contracts, so in theory to signing period could go on as scheduled during the lockout. It is likely to be pushed back, however, because the upcoming CBA may change the rules. Specifically, an international draft could be adopted. MLB has pushed for an international draft for years (decades, really), and the league does nothing by accident. Pushing the open of the signing period back behind the expiration of the CBA allows the league to easily implement new rules right away.
So, no official word yet, but I would bet strongly on the open of the international signing period being pushed back indefinitely. Here are MLB.com's top 30 international prospects. Dominican shortstop Roderick Arias, the consensus No. 1 prospect, is expected to sign with the Yankees.
Jan. 20: 2022 Hall of Fame class announced
Good news: the 2022 Hall of Fame class will be announced as scheduled. This is neither an MLB nor an MLBPA event. This event belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and they are not party to a lockout. Here's what you need to know about the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. Next year's Hall of Fame class will indeed be announced on Jan. 20. No worries here.
Mid-February: Spring training opens
This is when the MLBPA and especially MLB will begin to feel the heat. Ultimately, a lockout in the dead of winter is not a huge deal. It shuts down free agency and the hot stove in general, and that's a bummer for fans, but it's not like games are being missed. Once spring training begins and paychecks are on the line though, that's when everyone's feet is put to the fire.
To be clear, players are not paid during spring training. They receive per diem while on the road and that's it. Players are paid their contracted salaries during the six-month regular season only. The owners have revenue on the line in spring training though. It's not nearly as much as during the regular season, but there are plenty of tickets to be sold and games to be broadcast in February and March. If those games aren't played, it's lost revenue. At that point the lockout will begin costing owners money.
March 31: Opening Day
A lockout that extends into the regular season is the worst-case scenario for everyone involved. Owners begin losing regular season revenue, players don't get paid, and fans don't have baseball to watch. There is precedent for a work stoppage shortening spring training (1990 lockout and 1994-95 strike) and delaying Opening Day, but it's not a situation anyone wants. Postponing regular season games would be bad. Canceling them would be a nightmare and do serious harm to the product.
Manfred, in a Thursday morning press conference, expressed optimism about starting the 2022 regular season on time.
In a screwed up way, the pandemic may save us from a work stoppage that postpones or cancels regular season games. Neither MLB nor the MLBPA wants a third straight compromised season. The players lost 63 percent of their pay during the 60-game 2020 season, and the owners lost a ton of revenue during the shortened 2020 season and again when many 2021 games were played with restrictions on attendance. Neither side wants to lose more paychecks.
We know MLB and the MLBPA can swing a truncated spring training, if necessary. They did it just last season with the three-week summer camp. Is it ideal? No, but it is doable, so the lockout extending into the early days of spring training is not the end of the world. It's not great, but it's not a disaster either. A lockout that extends into the regular season would be disastrous though. No one benefits. I am hopeful the two sides know better than to endanger regular season games. Whether they can reach a new CBA in time is another matter entirely. Once the lockout begins and work stops, the calculus changes.